Liberia 2009

Refugees International Japan visits refugee communities around the world on a regular basis so that we can see at first hand the kind of impact your donations have. We are used to hearing bad news from countries affected by war. However, the people we meet, who are doing their best for their families and their communities, always impress our teams. Their resilience is amazing. The programs we fund help them to rebuild their lives and prepare for the return home.

VISIT REPORT - Liberia

Liberia is making strides in emerging from a fourteen year civil war, which displaced or sent to refuge hundreds of thousands at home or in neighbouring countries. As people return home they have to compete for limited resources; infrastructure has been destroyed, unemployment is high and literacy levels are low. Much of the capital, Monrovia, was destroyed in the war and many buildings are in ruins.

Background
The 14-year Liberian civil war was actually two wars - from 1989 to 1996 and then 1999 to 2003. Democratic elections took place in 2005 peacefully.

Around 250,000 people were killed during the war and many thousands more fled the fighting.

UNHCR sponsored repatriation of Liberian refugees officially ended on 30 June 2007. The returnees came in to join former Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in a country where the population of persons living on less than 1 USD per day is estimated to be 76.2% and 52% living on less that 0.50 USD per person per day.
Multiple sources estimate that unemployment in the formal sector is around 80%.

Refugees, IDPs and Returnees

Refugees and IDPs began returning home in 2004 but few people have gone back to the countryside with 50% of the population staying in and around Monrovia, living in squatter camps or several families renting small rooms. Many people live on less than a dollar a day and women and youth are particularly vulnerable. Young women heading up households have had to resort to selling on the streets and become prey to abuse.                                                                  

Abuse is a huge problem in Liberia – 75% of women were abused during the war, mainly by combatants - since the war abuse continues but now within families, in communities, from agency workers and generally from people they know.

Economic Empowerment for Female Heads of Households
This project, run by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was funded by Refugees International Japan in 2007 and 2008.
The program provided vulnerable young women with skills training and start-up opportunities in areas such as tailoring, hairdressing and catering.
The women gained in confidence and most were excited about the future. One women told me "It took me off the streets" - many of them were selling items on the street in order to care for their families, thus making them vulnerable to abuse and corruption.

Gender Based Violence Program (GBV)
The IRC GBV team took us to a rural town meeting to hear about community initiatives regarding abuse and violence. Training, radio broadcasts, open discussions are just some of the successful activities being undertaken in this town.

See Jane’s blog for more information on the visit